AI News, FAA Unveils Drone Rules: Autonomy Is In, Drone Delivery Is Out

FAA Unveils Drone Rules: Autonomy Is In, Drone Delivery Is Out

Yesterday, on a Sunday, right after Valentine’s Day, in the middle of a holiday weekend, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration decided to announce the long-awaitedNotice of Proposed Rulemaking for small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), governing the operation of drones under 55 pounds (25 kilograms).

We’ve bolded the most relevant rules if you just want to skim: In addition, in order to fly a sUAS, you (as an operator) and your drone wouldneed to meet the following requirements: For what it’s worth, the FAA acknowledges that it’s not like they’re going to be out actively policing everyone flying drones, handing out fines if your drone is flying at 501 feet, or speeding along at 101 mph.

One thing that is not addressed here is autonomy: can commercial drones fly themselves?The FAA rules are clearly based around human operators, but the FAA’sUAS FAQalso says that an unmanned aircraft can be flown by “a pilot via a ground control system, or autonomously through use of an on-board computer, communication links and any additional equipment that is necessary for the UA to operate safely.” There’s also one singlespecific reference to autonomy being allowed that we’ll point to later, although it’s all by itself and there’s no other mention of autonomy, so we’re not sure what it really means.

The FAA says that it’s “aggressively researching” flying a drone beyond line of sight, and the press release is soliciting“comments on whether the rules should permit operations beyond line of sight, and if so, what the appropriate limits should be.” So, there’s hope.

Amazon, which has been working on its Prime Air drone delivery program,has released a statement on the proposed rules, and predictably, they’re not happy about the restriction preventing delivery drones: “The FAA’s proposed rules for small UAS could take one or two years to be adopted and, based on the proposal, even then those rules wouldn’t allow Prime Air to operate in the United States,” said Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of Global Public Policy.

A UAS that is made outof frangible material presents a significantly lower risk to persons on the ground, as thatUAS is more likely to shatter if it should impact a person rather than injuring that person.Without the risk mitigation provided by frangible-material construction, the FAA would beunable to allow micro UAS to operate directly over a person not involved in the operation.The FAA notes that, currently, a majority of fixed-wing small UAS are made out offrangible materials that would satisfy the proposed requirement.

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